The autumn and winter months are the time to release the long, active days of summer and turn within, becoming more mindful and reflective as the days become shorter. The seasonal shift may also leave you vulnerable to illness if your immune system is weak, so it's important to get a handle on stress and focus on healthy nutrition to stay well this season.
As a naturopathic doctor, I recommend these tips to my patients to support their immune system naturally. They are guaranteed to help you stay well through fall, winter, and into spring.
1. Focus on fresh, local, and seasonal.
Fall is the season of warm, earthy foods like apples, turnips, pumpkins, parsnips, yams, winter squash, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, pears, and elderberries. When we eat with the seasons, we are aligned with the healing energies that those unique foods bring. To become more rooted and grounded as we head into colder months, focus on warming spices, soups and stews, pilafs, and roasted vegetables. It's easy to build a strong and healthy immune system by simply checking out your local farmers markets, which will showcase the lovely array of autumn and winter fruits and vegetables!
2. Get moving in the morning.
Seasonal changes can have an impact on your mood, which can affect your workouts and your ability to get regular exercise. People who participate in daily exercise are 25 percent less likely to develop symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, and this translates into less depression and less overeating. Getting fresh air and outdoor exercise is supportive to your overall health, and making it a morning priority will help you maintain your fitness momentum. Leave your evenings free for snuggling on the sofa or in front of a warm fire with the people you cherish!
3. Incorporate more self-care.
Your ability to show up in life and help others is directly related to how much care you provide for yourself. Make seven to nine hours of sleep your focus every night, as this one habit can affect your well-being more than almost anything else—especially during the colder months. People with chronic stress tend to have weaker immune systems and are more prone to anxiety, depression, and insomnia, which can lead to a cascade of health problems. Lower levels of stress mean a healthier immune system. Allow yourself a routine self-care ritual like a nightly lavender bath or a weekly massage, acupuncture treatment, or restorative yoga session. You can also try a warming sock treatment; this age-old hydrotherapy treatment will stop a cold before it starts.
4. Slow down and reflect.
Start bolstering your immune system now by listening to your body and taking cues from the weather outside. This is the time to reflect on and release the things that no longer serve you or bring happiness to your life. Meditation and self-reflection are vital to this season as we allow ourselves the space to make changes. Researchers found that mindfulness meditation affects the regions of the brain that control immune function and increase levels of circulating antibodies that identify and eradicate pathogens like viruses and bacteria. Sitting in stillness will not only encourage a greater sense of well-being, but it will help support immune function through the fall and winter months.
5. Use alternative preventive herbs and supplements.
Consider having weekly B12 and other vitamin and mineral injections to bolster your immune system and help maintain steady energy levels. Studies show that vitamin B12 and B6 deficiencies can inhibit both cell-mediated and humoral immunity, making it difficult for the body to respond to invading pathogens. Many of my patients report that while receiving B12 and other vitamin injections, they remain healthy while everyone around them suffers with the seasonal cold or flu. There are also a wide array of botanical medicines that have traditionally been used at the onset of a cold or flu. Herbal tinctures made from echinacea, elderberry, osha, and astragalus are good examples of herbs that are thought to help shorten the duration of the infection.
By following a healthy protocol like the one outlined above, you can build immunity naturally and make the most out of these warm, cozy, and transformative months of the year.